Our first patient arrived on March 4th, though we did not know that she and her husband were positive until Friday, March 6th, which is also when she unfortunately passed away at Gulf Coast Medical Center. These two patients were exposed through a trip to the Dominican Republic. On that date in March, the heartbeat of our hospital system changed forever.
We responded briskly across many fronts. All events were cancelled. The incident command center, which only typically assembles for major disasters like hurricanes, was opened and has continually operated for the past 90 days. Daily conference calls share information from across the system, including daily patient census, updates on facilities’ changes, needed IT adjustments, national and global pandemic news and data, treatment protocols, interaction with the county and state Emergency Operations Centers, and much more. More than 100 people join the call every morning to formulate the strategy to address the pandemic.
In the hospitals, visitation was severely restricted. Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves, gowns, face shields, etc. were impacted as supply chains shut down and competition rose. Prices skyrocketed. Floors in the hospital were established as COVID cohort units to isolate patients showing symptoms. Testing changed dramatically as new tests emerged which required new equipment and protocols. Food and nutrition service was modified, both for patients and for staff. Tents were established to triage patients before they entered the emergency departments. Everyone, and everything, became focused on taking care of patients with a novel virus and no proven treatments.
The crisis affected other services as well. Elective surgeries were shut down, and the number of visitors to the emergency rooms dropped in half. Sick people were staying home rather than seeing a doctor. We needed to close facilities, both to protect our stock of PPE as well as to adjust to a reduced volume of patients. We converted our Lee Telehealth to a free service, and use of telemedicine services skyrocketed. In the past few weeks, we’ve provided well over 1,500 telemedicine visits per day. Consumers started to change their habits and the system is responding.
Like other businesses, these changes have had major implications for the business operations of Lee Health. Revenues in the second half of March plummeted, and fell even further throughout April. Expenses remained high as we dealt with increased PPE costs, incentive pay for COVID frontline workers, food and nutrition costs for staff, purchasing of additional ventilators, modifications to information technology infrastructure, and costs for tents and testing centers throughout our region. We tried everything to protect our outstanding staff in the midst of a global health and economic crisis, believing that our people are the best assets in helping us get through this. In the months of March and April alone, the system lost $86 million in contribution margin.
Lee Health Foundation pivoted as well. We launched an online event for SanCap Cares, which yielded more than $400,000 for pediatric neurosurgery. We became the go-to place for PPE and food contributions to the system, receiving more than $500,000 worth of in-kind gifts over a six–week period. We launched the SWFL Stronger Together campaign with NCH to show the Southwest Florida community that its healthcare leaders are working closely to address the pandemic. This campaign has generated more than $1 million in gifts since inception, and recently transitioned to the SWFL “Safer” Together campaign to encourage people in our community to seek and receive the healthcare they need. We have sought out new sources of grant funding, launched several direct mail campaigns, worked closely with our marketing and communications colleagues to actively tell the story of our healthcare heroes, and began the Kids’ Minds Matter Mental Health Mondays virtual series to address a major issue related to quarantine and self-isolation. We reached out to donors across the country to stand with them, and to provide support wherever possible.
We continue to evaluate costs, and our Foundation and the system have taken great steps to bring our expenses back in line with our new revenue projections. We’ve eliminated travel, scaled back consulting agreements, eliminated unnecessary capital investments, closed offices temporarily, froze hiring, increased telecommuting, cut salaries and benefits for leaders, and rolled out 15 different labor savings strategies. We’ve offered both paid and unpaid leave for team members to deal with personal or family health issues, including the added burdens of caring for children and elderly in their homes. We’ve sought (and received) governmental funding through the CARES Act to help offset the losses we’ve endured, and we’ll continue to right-size our operation for months to come.
This pandemic will change the way healthcare is consumed and delivered. Lee Health is adapting, but our mission and vision remain as strong and relevant as before. We want a healthy community receiving world-class care, so that everyone can enjoy their best possible lives.
You have long been a part of making that vision possible, whether you support children through the Golisano Children’s Hospital, our Regional Cancer Center, one of our five hospitals, or even your personal doctor. You share our mission, vision and values and you want us to be better coming through this. I wanted to tell you directly how deeply grateful we are for your ongoing support, and how touched I personally am by your caring and generous spirit. We are stronger together. In fact, we are #LeeHealthStrong, and I’m proud that you’re a part of this outstanding team.
Thank you again for your support to all of us at Lee Health. You are changing patients’ lives for the better every day, and we are eternally grateful.
Chief Foundation and Development Officer